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Abraham, Martin and John

"Abraham, Martin and John"
Single by Dion
from the album Dion
B-side"Daddy Rollin' (In Your Arms)"
ReleasedAugust 1968
RecordedAllegro Sound Studios; Engineer Bruce Staple
GenreFolk rock
LabelLaurie Records
Songwriter(s)Dick Holler
Producer(s)Phil Gernhard

"Abraham, Martin and John" is a 1968 song written by Dick Holler and first recorded by Dion. It is a tribute to the memory of four assassinated Americans, all icons of social change: Abraham Lincoln, Martin Luther King Jr., John F. Kennedy, and Robert F. Kennedy. It was written in response to the assassination of King and that of Robert Kennedy in April and June 1968, respectively.[1]


Each of the first three verses features one of the men named in the song's title, for example:

Anybody here, seen my old friend Abraham?
Can you tell me where he's gone?
He freed a lot of people, but it seems the good, they die young
You know I just looked around and he's gone

After a bridge, the fourth and final verse mentions Robert "Bobby" Kennedy, and ends with a description of him walking over a hill with the other three men.

Dion recording

The original version, recorded by Dion, featured a gentle folk rock production from Phil Gernhard and arrangement from John Abbott. The feeling of the song is set with a gentle English horn and violin opening then featuring harp flourishes at multiple points, including the instrumental conclusion. The song also features a flugelhorn, an electric organ, bass, and drums. Dion felt during post production that the song needed more depth and added a track featuring him playing classical guitar notably at the bridge, lead ins, and the close.

Although it was quite unlike the rock sound that Dion had become famous for in the early 1960s, and even more unlike Holler and Gernhard's previous collaboration in the 1966 novelty smash "Snoopy Vs. The Red Baron", "Abraham, Martin and John" nonetheless was a major American hit single in late 1968. It reached #4 on the U.S. pop singles chart and was awarded an RIAA gold record for selling a million copies. In Canada, it topped the charts, reaching #1 in the RPM 100 on November 25, 1968.[2] In 2001 this recording would be ranked number 248 on the RIAA's Songs of the Century list. The record was also popular with adult listeners, reaching #8 on Billboard's Easy Listening survey. The personnel on the original recording included Vinnie Bell and Ralph Casale on guitar, Nick DeCaro on organ, David Robinson on drums, Gloria Agostini on harp, and George Marge on oboe and English horn.

Chart performance

Later recordings and performances

  • Smokey Robinson & the Miracles recorded a version that became an American Top 40 single in 1969, reaching #33[8] while reaching #16 on the US R&B charts[9]
  • Marvin Gaye recorded a version that became a top-ten hit (#9) in the United Kingdom in 1970 (Gaye's version was never released in the U.S. as a single but was featured on his 1970 album, That's the Way Love Is, and was one of his first experiments with social messages in his music which would culminate in his 1971 album, What's Going On.)
  • Moms Mabley, best known as a comedian, performed a completely serious version that hit the U.S. Top 40, reaching #35 in 1969.[10] and #18 on the R&B charts[11]
  • Ray Charles recorded his version of the song on his 1972 album A Message from the People.
  • Marillion released two versions in 1999. A live recording was on their Unplugged at the Walls album, and a studio version on their fanclub Christmas CD the same year.
  • The Band Of Heathens made a recording of the song on their A Message from the People Revisited album, 2018.

As part of medleys

The song is also featured on Tom Clay's 1971 "What the World Needs Now Is Love/Abraham, Martin, and John", a medley combining Dion's recording with Jackie DeShannon's recording of Burt Bacharach's "What the World Needs Now Is Love", along with vocals by The Blackberries. Clay's recording features narration (an adult asking a child to define several words associated with social unrest), sound bites from speeches given by President John F. Kennedy, Robert Kennedy, and Martin Luther King Jr., along with sound bites from the live press coverage of Robert Kennedy's assassination, and his eulogy by his brother Edward M. Kennedy. It reached No. 8 on the Billboard Hot 100 chart[12] on August 14, 1971 and #32 on the R&B charts.[13] In 1997, Whitney Houston sang a rendition of "Abraham, Martin and John" that aired on VH1 and HBO: Whitney Houston: Live Washington DC.

See also


  1. ^ "How Robert Kennedy Inspired 'Abraham, Martin and John'". The New York Times Company. 2018-06-05. Retrieved 2018-06-10.
  2. ^ a b "Item Display - RPM - Library and Archives Canada". Retrieved 2015-07-14.
  3. ^ "Flavour of New Zealand, 17 January 1969 - search listener". Retrieved 2017-03-17.
  4. ^ Joel Whitburn's Top Pop Singles 1955-2002
  5. ^ "Cash Box Top 100 12/21/68". 1968-12-21. Archived from the original on 2016-10-04. Retrieved 2016-10-01.
  6. ^ "Item Display - RPM - Library and Archives Canada". Retrieved 2016-10-01.
  7. ^ Whitburn, Joel (1999). Pop Annual. Menomonee Falls, Wisconsin: Record Research Inc. ISBN 0-89820-142-X.
  8. ^ Whitburn, Joel The Billboard Book of Top 40 Hits, Billboard Books, New York, 1992, p. 317
  9. ^ Whitburn, Joel, The Billboard Book of TOP 40 R&B and Hip Hop Hits, Billboard Books, New York 2006, p. 400
  10. ^ Whitburn, Joel The Billboard Book of Top 40 Hits, Billboard Books, New York, 1992 p. 287
  11. ^ Whitburn, Joel, The Billboard Book of TOP 40 R&B and Hip Hop Hits, Billboard Books, New York 2006, p. 363
  12. ^ Whitburn, Joel The Billboard Book of Top 40 Hits, Billboard Books, New York, 1992, p. 102
  13. ^ Whitburn, Joel, The Billboard Book of TOP 40 R&B and Hip Hop Hits, Billboard Books, New York 2006, p.109

Further reading

  • Collins, Ace. Songs Sung, Red, White, and Blue: The Stories Behind America's Best-Loved Patriotic Songs. HarperResource, 2003. ISBN 0060513047

External links